Longtime Cleveland harpist Kristy Kline evolves from rock covers to pop originals
Harpist Kristy Kline has been active in the Cleveland music scene since the early 1990s, recognized for using her classical instrument to cover classic rock hits.
Now Kline is branching out into the pop world, working on original harp tunes with the goal of reaching a younger generation and introducing the instrument in a new way to listeners.
Her interest in the harp blossomed early in life. After seeing the harp on TV at age 12, Kline wanted to learn the instrument.
“It's not a typical type of instrument that you would see in anybody's house,” Kline said. “A lot of people associate it, a harp, being in a castle or in a haunted house or something.”
Her parents took her to a harp ensemble in Rocky River, and soon after she received a lever harp traditionally used to play Celtic music and began taking private lessons.
She started playing the harp professionally at weddings and hotels throughout the Cleveland area while she was in high school.
Kline eventually upgraded to a larger, concert-style pedal harp and aspired to join an orchestra and record her music. She enrolled in the harp performance program at Ohio University.
“When I went to college and I thought I wanted to play in the orchestra, it was a big letdown because everything has to be precise and on time, and it was a totally new experience for me,” she said.
After realizing the orchestral world wasn’t for her, Kline moved on to teach private lessons, form a small harp ensemble and work as an agent and promoter for local musicians.
She started learning classic rock songs and children’s lullabies on her concert grand harp, which opened new doors for her professionally and artistically.
“I wanted to sort of surprise the audience with something that would be very different,” she said.
Kline goes electric
In 1992, Kline produced and released her first album, “Golden Harp Lullabies,” followed by a collection of ancient Egyptian folk songs, “Egyptian Harp Dreams,” in 1997.
She picked up an electric harp from Paris called a Camac that straps onto the body, similar to an electric guitar.
“I've been working with it for years now, so I'm always working on the sound. The sound is really important to me because I wanted to exemplify almost like a synthesized sound,” she said.
Acquiring the new instrument allowed Kline to further experiment with her music, incorporating effects and her own singing into her harp playing.
Kline had a residency at the Ritz-Carlton Cleveland, where rock icons like Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey and Billy Joel joined her for impromptu performances.
“I wanted to sort of surprise the audience with something that would be very different."Kristy Kline
This inspired Kline to begin working on her album “Harp Rock,” which contains 14 covers of classic rock songs from bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith and ZZ Top.
“I've used so many different effects and experimented with a lot of different things,” she said. “The sound has evolved from all of that experimentation into what I'm doing now.”
She began performing at rock venues across Cleveland, including the House of Blues and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Kline’s covers caught the attention of Fox, and her version of ZZ Top’s “Gimme All Your Lovin’” was selected to play in an episode of the long-running crime show “Bones.”
In 2016, she created the “Pink Floyd Experience,” a tribute show that incorporates laser lights, dry ice and electric harp covers of the band’s most popular songs.
She put on the show throughout the years at various venues across Cleveland.
Embracing the sound of a new generation
Traditional harps are notoriously expensive and difficult to repair, making the instrument a less popular or accessible creative vehicle than a guitar or keyboard.
“The troubadour today, I think, is probably in the neighborhood of right around $6,000. But the concert grand harp, they start at probably $10,000,” Kline said. “And how you have to carry it around is not easy either, because you have to have a harp cart. But then it would have to tilt over sideways into, let's say, your van without the seats in it.”
Kline said she wants to introduce the harp to new listeners who might not think of it as more than part of an orchestra played in a more formal, classical setting.
“You can actually use it to play the melody,” Kline said. “You can sort of cover it just like you would a piano. And sometimes it can sound like a little bit of a mix between a piano and a guitar.”
“This is new. I've been working on it probably close to eight or 10 years, somewhere around there,” she said.
She will showcase her vocal abilities in her new music, with her influences ranging from Julie London to Billie Eilish and Lana Del Rey.
Kline was recently selected as a contestant for the Audacy Opening Act, a national music competition where she has a chance to open for big-name artists at the We Can Survive benefit concert.